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Robert Cray Band to play at Vilar

Cassie Pence
Special to the DailyThe Robert Cray Band played seven consecutive nights at London's Royal Albert Hall in May, opening for Eric Clapton, where the band recorded its first-ever live CD, "The Robert Cray Band: Live From Across the Pond," a double disc due out Sept. 12.
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BEAVER CREEK ” Musicians tend to fall into three different categories.

There are the studio studs. Those technical perfectionists who do their best work behind heavy, wooden sound-proof doors. Think Steely Dan or any rapper on Dr. Dre’s label.

Then there are the face-melting live acts, like Phish and The Grateful Dead, who feed off the crowd’s energy. These bands can fill a stadium with sweaty, dancing fanatics who collect bootlegs like baseball cards, but they can’t get much radio play because their studio albums fall flat. (And where would corporate sponsors fit in during a 20-minute jam session, anyway?)

Finally, there are those musicians who traverse both worlds. Bands who earn a following with their live shows and hold on to it with their studio CDs ” or vice versa. And when a musician like this records a live album, it’s often pure sonic reassurance.

Bluesman Robert Cray falls into this third category. Cray and his band have been touring for 30-plus years, their discography boasts 16 records, and Cray has won five Grammys for his soulful singing and rhythm-and-blues licks. So it’s surprising that it wasn’t until May that Cray and his crew recorded their very first live album, “The Robert Cray Band: Live From Across the Pond,” a double disc due out Sept. 12.

“It’s not that we have never thought about it. People have been asking us about a live CD for ages,” Cray said from San Francisco, back on tour after about a two-week break.

The unknown factors of recording live show, Cray said, like blowing out your voice or being too aware that the tape is rolling, deterred the group, and a live album just never panned out. But at the end of April when the band was invited to tour with Clapton, and seven shows were scheduled at the classic rocker’s home base, London’s Royal Albert Hall, the ideal moment presented itself.

“It was perfect,” Cray said. “That took a lot of pressure away because we were an opening act in front of Eric’s crowd, and with seven nights at the same place nothing had to change. It made it like going to the kitchen and cooking your favorite meal every night.”

Cray and Clapton have known each other since the ’80s, when Cray first toured with him. On Clapton’s “Journeymen” album, the two recorded “Our Love” together, and Clapton is known to cover Cray’s “Bad Influence.” All factors lead to the group’s comfort level and the live album.

Recording live and having to sort through seven nights’ worth of material was a real learning experience, Cray said, even for such a road-seasoned band as keyboardist Jim Pugh, bassist Karl Sevareid and drummer Kevin Hayes.

“We did a lot of magnifying-glass inspection,” Cray said. “There’s a lot I don’t hear, especially listening to how the band works together.”

Overall, Cray was very impressed with what he did hear. Those nights the band was in sync, bonding and just feeling it, he said.

“Nothing is ever quite perfect, which is great,” Cray said. “I have as many clams on the disc as anyone else. That’s the thing you have to look past when you’re making a live CD. What you’re looking for is the performance. You don’t throw out a good glass of wine just because a fly got on the side of the glass.”

Some of the songs featured on “Live Across The Pond,” which is the first release on Cray’s own label Nozzle Records, are “Phone Booth,” “Poor Johnny,” “The Things You Did To Me” and “Twenty,” an anti-war song about a soldier who never makes it home from Iraq.

“It’s basically about the men and the women who are over there after the perpetrators of 9-11, but they wound up in the wrong country and for the wrong reason,” Cray said. “I got a lot of positive reaction overseas from people who understand the same things we do over here. The response is real good. People clap and sometimes stand up.”

Like the live disc, when the Robert Cray Band stops at the Vilar Center Sunday, Cray said the crowd can expect a mixture of both old and new songs.

Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 748-2938 or cpence@vaildaily.com.


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